Rob was well in to his sixth pint of Stella by the time the usual evening crowd arrived. Not that there was much of a crowd in Jordan’s, it was the kind of place where you had to know it was there to find it, and you had to know someone there to get served. Everyone had a dodgy past, dodgy present or would soon have a dodgy future.

No one ever knew who ‘Jordan’ was, the bar was owned by Terry; an overweight, acne scarred, balding Geordie. Terry was the end of a long line of owners who all thought they could ‘turn the place around’ and soon found out that they couldn’t. Terry, somehow, seemed to make a profit, or at least be able to stand losing money, so had stuck around for longer than anyone else Rob could remember. That was why Rob considered Terry the closest thing he had to a friend, and why he was confiding in him.

‘It’s like this you see. I have…special needs in the bedroom. I need someone I can trust, and who will…provide them.’

‘Don’t we all,’ Terry answered. Rob wondered for a second whether Terry ever got his needs met, and if so who would be desperate enough to be the other person in the room. The image was not a good one.

‘Yeah, don’t we all,’ he answered, drowning the vision in one large gulp of warm Stella. ‘Get me another one would you Terry?’ And when Terry made no sign of movement, ‘And one for yourself of course.’ That got the desired effect, Terry shouted across to Diane, regular drinker and occasional barmaid, who brought across short measures which she still managed to spill onto the already sticky table. Both men watched in silence as she walked back to the bar.

‘What about her?’ Terry asked.

Rob pondered for a moment, sucked on his e-cig and blew out a cloud of scented steam. ‘Nah, not quite right. Close, but something off.’

The door opened and three regular couples came in. Terry, who despite his looks was astute enough when it came to an opportunity to make a pound, was behind the bar like a shot so that he could provide short measures and short change personally.

Diane took his seat. ‘You look down tonight, Rob, Problems?’

Rob paused, took a long sip and let lose another cloud of vape steam. ‘No, just need…err…something.’

‘You’re a good looking bloke. You have money. You have time on your hands. You could get “err…something” anytime. You wouldn’t need to look far.’

Rob took the hint, let her down with a handy cliché. ‘If you’re suggesting what I think you may be suggesting, you’re too good a mate for that. I’d hate to spoil our friendship.’

‘I still might be able to help you out. I have friends. Friends with special skills, if you know what I mean? Tell me what you need, I’ll find someone?’

‘Let me think about it? I’ll pay off my tab, you got the card machine?’

Diane waited while he slowly tapped in the four numbers of his pin, tore up the receipt, onto which she’d added enough drinks to keep her going all night, and set off for home alone.

Everyone knew that Rob had money. No one knew where from, and he was never particularly keen to tell. But he didn’t work, he didn’t appear to be a businessman and no one had ever seen him selling drugs or tax free fags, so they all assumed (Jordan’s being that sort of place) that he was living off the proceeds of some historic crime. Rumours ranged from a bank job right through to Brinks Matt. In truth he was widowed at 24, inherited some property at 26, and made some very astute investments. Coupled with a relatively frugal lifestyle (he lived, anonymously, in a bed sit in one of the houses he owned) he had no need to work and, compared to the manual, shop and office workers he mixed with, appeared well off. He either never noticed, or never complained about his inflated bar tabs.

 

Two days later Rob was at his usual table, usual pint. Terry was having a rare day off, so Diane was behind the bar, filing her nails. Otherwise the place was empty. Until a stunning red head walked in, ordered a bottle of champagne and told Diane that Rob was paying. Diane looked at Rob, who looked at the red head, made a decision, and nodded yes.

‘Jacqui, and you’re Rob.’ She held out a gloved hand for him to kiss. Rob felt something stir. ‘I’m Diane’s friend.’

‘You want that champagne to go?’ He asked.

‘No, you have to earn me.’ She replied.

In those six words she told Rob all he needed to know. He set about earning his reward.

 

The next morning he woke in his own bed, thinking that the night before must have been a bad dream because he never brought his special ladies home. He walked into the shower room and dry swallowed some paracetamol, showered, and winced in pain when the hot water hit the raw welts on his back. So she had been here. It was only when he walked back in to the bed-sitting room that Rob’s heart stopped. His cash box was open on the floor, and empty. His wallet alongside it, empty. Even his cards had gone. Fortunately whoever had done him over, and he was pretty sure he knew who that was, had not found his savings account book taped under a draw.

He phoned the bank, to find that his accounts had been cleared out and his credit cards all maxed out. He thumped the wall, which earned him a warning shout from the room next door to ‘keep it down, asshole, we heard enough from you last night.’ He dressed and headed for Jordan’s. Terry was behind the bar.

‘Where’s Diane?’

‘Dunno, she hasn’t been in today.’

‘You expecting her?’

‘She usually pops in, but I haven’t asked her to work or anything. Here, call her if you want her.’ He gave Rob a mobile number. It rang out without going to voicemail.

‘You know where that sister of hers hangs out?’ Rob asked.

‘Sister? She hasn’t got a sister.’

‘Tall? Redhead? Called Jacqui?’

‘Mate, that ain’t her sister, that’s her girlfriend. You knew she’s gay, right? I thought that was what you meant when you said you wanted something special and said she was nearly right? That’s why I put them on to you.’

Rob didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. He settled for demanding a few pints on the house.

Neither of them saw Jacqui or Diane for quite some time…

(c) Carter Lacey 2017

Rodney Franklin was a happy man. Thirty years out of the Marine Corps, he kept to himself except for a Friday night beer in the nearest bar, ran his farm single handed when he could and hired in some help for the jobs he couldn’t manage. When he first bough the farm in ’72 some of the locals laughed that he always hired in help to slaughter his livestock rather than doing it himself, but once he told a few people he’d seen enough death in Vietnam and would see no more, the story got round and people stopped laughing.

He was checking the foundations for a new hog pen when he was disturbed from his work by a voice from the past.

‘Well hello Mr Franklin. How are you today?’

Rodney turned slowly, knowing yet still dreading who he was going to see.

‘Lenny Bertrand. Back again?’

‘Why yes Mr Franklin. I think it’s about time you made me a small gift, don’t you?’

‘I paid you, Lenny. I paid you ten years ago and almost every year since. Why am I still paying you?’

‘Because you really don’t want Sherriff Hunter to know what you did with Mrs Hunter at the barn dance all those years ago, now do you? I’ve kept my end of the bargain. I left town with the money you gave me then, I only come back when I need a top up and no one ever knows I’ve been. Unless you tell them?’

‘I don’t tell nobody nothin’ Lenny. But I don’t see why I should keep paying you year after year for one fumble in my truck. Anyhow, Elaine Hunter’s been dead these last five years.

‘You think the Sherriff cares about that? You think he wants her memory spoiled? I don’t want much Mr Franklin, just enough to see me south and set up for the winter.’

‘Now that’s all you want. But you’ll be back. Again and again. You’re going to keep coming until I die aren’t you?’

‘Or until the Sherriff dies I guess, yes.’

Or until you die The thought popped into Rodney’s head.

‘Wait there. I’ll get your money, you bloodsucker.’ He said, and made to walk towards the farm house. Lenny turned, even he had the decency to give the man he was blackmailing some privacy. That’s why he didn’t see Rodney sneak up behind him and hit him over the back of the head with a shovel. He fell in to the open trench. Rodney looked over, saw the unmoving body and, realising what he’d done, retched up his lunch.

He ran to the house, thinking of different excuses he could give to the Sherriff for finding the dead tramp. He considered throwing the body to the hogs, he knew they would eat almost anything. In the end he decided to simply cover up the body. He couldn’t bring himself to look at it again, so he started up his digger and half filled the trench with hard core to form the foundation of his new hog pen.

 *

Rodney’s success continued. For five more years he lived on his farm. His hogs thrived, he made enough money and carried on living his simple life. He drove his truck to the nearest bar one night a week as he had always done, drank a couple of beers and drove home again. If anyone had known him well enough they may have noticed that he had something on his mind most of the time, but everyone had their own worries and anyway no one was that close to him, so no one noticed.

 *

But something was playing on Rodney’s mind. He’d read Poe. He could hear Lenny’s heart beat every time he went to the hog pen. He knew that one day he would have to move the body or go mad. Finally the day came. He could stand it no longer. Rodney let loose the hogs and drove his digger through the pen walls. Then he dug. He dug down to where the body should have been and saw nothing. He dug further, and still no body. He got out of the digger and dug with a shovel. Still nothing. Finally he started scraping at the ground with his bare hands. He was on his hands and knees when the trench collapsed in on him. If anyone had been there they would have seen a filthy, crying man shouting over and over again ‘She wasn’t worth this! She wasn’t worth this!’

 *

The Sherriff arrived a couple of hours later. Someone had called him after seeing hogs loose on the highway. Sherriff Hunter recognised that they were Rodney’s. He saw the damaged pens and re-opened foundations but could not work out why Rodney would have done that much damage. He assumed some sort of accident or vandalism. Worried, he went looking for Rodney. When he couldn’t find him around the farm he eventually called for some help and dug down in to the reopened trench. That’s where they found his body.

No one in town ever worked out what happened or why. The only man who might have known saw a news report of the mysterious death while nursing a sandwich and coffee in a Salvation Army hostel two towns away. Lenny Bertrand rubbed the scar on the back of his head, hidden by his long greasy hair. Yet again he thanked his lucky stars that the one farmer who tried to kill him was probably the only one on the country too squeamish to check he was dead before leaving him alone in the trench with enough time to climb out and slip away.

(c) Carter Lacey 2016

 

I know it’s the wrong time of year for this, but in a ‘we’re getting the band back together’ moment I was hunting through some old music and lyrics from a band I played in seven years or so ago. I wrote this blues lyric for the lead guitar player who suffered badly with hay fever.

 

The pollen count is high, and I’m feeling very low
Yeah, the pollen count is high, so I’m feeling very low
My head is dull and aching
Wherever I go

I’m loaded up with drugs, but they aren’t even that much fun
Loaded with lots of drugs, not even that much fun
Still, at least they’re cheap and legal,
I got them from my Mum!

I sneeze, wheeze and sniffle, hate my life when I’m like this
Sneezing, wheezing and sniffing, Man I hate when I’m like this
Wish the pollen count would drop
So I can stop this sniff sniff sniff!

The pollen count is high, and it makes me cross
Yeah, the pollen count is high, man this is so crass
A couple of months and I’ll be better
But then it’ll be Christmas

 

(c) Carter Lacey 2008